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Elizabethan England

Fashions: Women and Men

by Charlene Christmon, Mario Hunter,
and Raquel Nash

The Elizabethan age brought about a great development of culture in sixteenth century England. One way this great development of culture came about is through fashion and costume. Fashion in the Elizabethan age was a way of expressing one's self: the fashiotruly helped to reveal the general culture of the period.

In the early stages of the Elizabethan era women generally wore clothes that covered them completely. The bodice or the top part of the gown was generally tight fitting with square shoulders. The yoke was usually of a dark color, and there was often some type of high collar. The collar would extend all the way to the chin and usually would ruffle at the top.

The sleeves were usually full from the shoulder to the elbow and then more tight and form-fitting from the elbow to the wrist. At the wrist the sleeves would open wide into a large ruffle.

The gown usually contained a v-shaped point at the waistline and then expanded into a sort of funnel shape reaching the ground. The shoes the women wore in this beginning period were not important because the gown reached to the floor; the shoes most often were not seen. As for jewelry, many woman in this period wore large pendants of gold around their necks. Earrings were not very common except among the very sophisticated, who would wear pearls.

The headgear of the beginning of the Elizabethan period was an English version of the French hood. This "hood" was placed near the back of the head and was worn with a stiff base that was very close-fitting. Many women in this period also opted for small jeweled caps decorated with jewels, pearls, or lace.

As the period went on, the women's style of dress saw a few changes. The bodice of a dress was still tight-fitting, but instead of a v-shaped waistline, the bodice was cut in a straight line around the hips. The sleeves also changed. Instead of ruffling between the shoulder and the elbow, they were tight-fitting all the way down to the wrist. The skirt became heavily embroidered, yet still remained long enough to drag the ground.

The men's style of clothing was also very distinct during the beginning of this great period. The men wore embroidered vest-like shirts called jerkins, which had square shoulders and buttons down the front. The sleeves were often decorated and loose- fitting all the way to the wrists. The pants were loose-fitting and extended to about three to four inches above the knee. They were padded with horse-hair and slashed in order to show the knitted silk stockings underneath.

The shoes of the men were generally made with the finest of leather. They contained a small leather heel and were often decorated with slashes. The headgear was either a small flat hat made of velvet or silk or a tall crown hat that was covered by fine fabric or feathers. Some of the more distinguished men wore small capes with big-edged collars.

As the period continued, so did the development of men's fashion in this culture. Stockings began to be replaced by garters, and silk stockings were replace by horse hair trunk hose. The most distinguished men began to wear crowned beaver hats and wide cloaks held by a chain and a crucifix. The tailored stockings were plain. The pumps had rounded toes and closed at the ankles. The bonnet was trimmed around the edged and decorated with a plume on one side.The men also began to carry short perfumed gloves.

There really isn't much to be said about the fashion of children in this age. They usually wore smaller versions of the adult fashions, and even the infant girls were required to wear long gowns. The boys generally wore miniature versions of clothing worn by the men. Their doublets and shirts had slashes in them, and they wore silk stockings of color underneath. The girls generally wore long braids in their hair; the braids would either be tied with ribbon or made into a crown.

Throughout the Elizabethan period there was a great development of culture in England. The influences of this culture can be seen through the fashion and costume of the sixteenth century English people.

See also "Men's Fashions" and "Women's Fashions"

Works Consulted

Boucher, Francois. 20,000 Years of Fashion. New York: Harry N. Adams, Inc., 1885.

This book gives a great overview of the fashion in the Elizabethan days. It discusses their costume from the beginning of Queen Elizabeth I's reign to the end. The section called "Costume in England" is very informative.

Cassin-Scott, Jack. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Costume and Fashion 1550-1920. New York: Blandford Press, 1971.

This book discusses the fashion of the Elizabethan people. It gives great detail about the clothing of both men and women. The chapters entitled "1550-1620" and "1620-1670" were very informative.

Dorner, Jane. Fashion. London: Octopus Books Limited, 1974.

This book gives us a firm grasp of what clothing was like in the 1500's. It talks about what the people wore around the castle and to important gatherings.

Ford, Boris. 16th Century Britain. Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.

This book is full of description and illustrations of the Elizabethan people. There is a picture of the Earl of Cumberland on page 19.

Hanson, Henny Harald. Costumes and Styles. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1956.

The chapter entitled "The Renaissance" gives an informative overview of the fashion in the Elizabethan days. It explains that the English costume was greatly influenced by both Italian and German fashion.

Hart, Roger. English Life in Tudor Times. New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1972.

This book provides us many details about men and women's dress through detailed pictures. The section entitled "The Tudor Times" was very informative.

Peacock, John. Costume 1066-Present. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1986.

This book gives very detailed pictures and of the Elizabethan people. The part entitled "Elizabethan I - 1558-1603" is especially informative.

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